Pin Me

Project Management Anecdotes: When Teamwork Triumphs (or Fails)

written by: ciel s cantoria • edited by: Linda Richter • updated: 7/14/2011

Stories and anecdotes about teamwork are great tools for keeping the team members focused on the bigger picture. They’re quite interesting because their story lines tell of typical human situations that end with a "punch line;" this makes the story extraordinary and thought-provoking.

  • slide 1 of 7

    Looking Back at the History of Multidisciplinary / Multifunctional Teams

    526px-Proposed postwar Japan occupation zones 

    The concept of pooling different competencies into a core unit became popular during the late 1940s, and each unit was called a multidisciplinary or multifunctional team. These teams were assigned to help different countries that were reeling from the devastating effects of World War II, a time when the problems they had to face were multi-faceted.

    The U.S. was at the forefront of the reconstruction projects in Germany and Japan, through the occupational government that was set up along with the other Allied nations: Great Britain and France. Accordingly, their ultimate goal was to transform the two countries’ governance into a democratic form.

    By 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) was established and since then has become a strong democratic nation, except for the regions in East Germany. Nevertheless, the “Cold War" between East and West ended in 1990, with the East finally giving in to the rule of democratic sovereignty.

    The Japanese and their emperor embraced the doctrines of democracy and adopted the new constitution in 1946. The new doctrines included Japan’s fervent vow of never going to wage war against any nation, ever again.

    Stories of accomplishments, particularly those that are based on historical facts, have great lessons to impart. They serve as reminders to everyone that nothing is impossible to achieve if all work together for the common good. Conflict and adversity only beget failure, and this has been proven time and again -- but they are exactly the challenges to hurdle in order to make success more meaningful and resounding.

    Project management stories and anecdotes about team work have helped smooth out differences of opinions, attitudes and behaviors among team members. Inasmuch as goals have to be achieved within a particular time frame, it is quite important that these differences be resolved at the soonest.

  • slide 2 of 7

    Working Together for a Common Good

    Some team members tend to limit the degree of cooperation they contribute. They feel that in giving more, their skills and competencies are being exploited without any assurance that they will be justly rewarded. Cooperation should be perceived not by the amount of work that is added, but by the degree of necessity or urgency by which it is needed. Values should be based not for a particular member’s benefit but for the entire team.

    The benefits of a fruitful completion may not inure to a particular individual but are likely to spread out to the entire components of the organization in terms of sustainability and stability.

    Ponder on this brief narrative:

    707px-Lovis Corinth Weiber von Weinsberg 

    A thousand years ago in Germany, a duke had decided to rebel against his king because he felt he had been unjustly berated and embarrassed for a minor malfeasance. For the duke, it was an unfair treatment, considering that his tax contributions to the kingdom were quite significant.

    The people, who worked for the duke along with their spouses and children, stayed on to give support to their noble master, mindless of the soldiers who were just about ready to launch their attack. The king, however, gave instructions that only the men folk would be arrested. The women and children should be allowed to leave the castle unharmed. The king was confident that the castle will eventually run out of provisions and this would force everyone to come out.

    However, it seemed that the duke’s castle had enough provisions stored, since everyone still remained inside for quite some time. The king then gave orders that if the duke will not end the siege, the villagers living in one of the Duke’s nearby estate would be harmed by setting their homes on fire.

    Before the order could be carried out, the king received a note from the duke’s wife. The duchess, along with the other womenfolk and the children, had decided to leave the castle but would like to seek the king’s reassurance for their safe passage. The letter also came with a request to allow the women to bring out of the castle anything which they could carry on their backs.

    The king, of course, acquiesced to the duchess’ plea; after all he had a standing order to the soldiers not to harm the women and children. Besides, the women were capable of carrying only so much on their backs. What’s important is that the king’s soldiers can now launch a full assault against the duke and his men.

    The king personally went to the site to make sure that the women and children will be given safe passage. However, the ruler and his soldiers were dumbfounded in seeing the women and their children, as they came out of the castle gates. They were hobbling and staggering under the heavy weight of the burden they were carrying on their backs, as they tried with all their strength to get past the king’s soldiers.

    The officers of the royal army were furious at the sight of wives carrying their husbands on their backs, daughters carrying their fathers or sisters carrying their brothers, while the children helped keep the men from slipping off. Although looking greatly embarrassed, the duke and his men hanged-on for dear life, hinged on their women’s backs. The soldiers were just about ready to pounce on them the moment the king gave the orders.

    However, the outraged soldiers could do nothing because the king was so amused at the sight of the audacious women, mindless of losing all their aristocratic poise and composures and at the discomfiture of the men on their backs. The king merely laughed at the whole situation and ordered the men to leave the women alone, since he had given his word for their safe passage along with whatever they could carry on their backs.

    The tale ends with a note that the duke and his men renewed their loyalty to their king out of gratefulness for his fairness and lack of ruthlessness. Accordingly, the said ruler, King Konrad III had renamed the duke’s stronghold as “The Castle of the Faithful Wives," which up to this day, still exists in the city of Weinsberg, Germany.

  • slide 3 of 7

    Active and Genuine Team Participation

    800px-Work Breakdown Structure 

    Involving every team member in all phases of the project is the best way to ensure that each member’s contribution is attuned to the actual status of the project as a whole. Some members tend to regard weekly meetings as boring, thus paying less attention to what other members have to report or the issues being brought up regarding their assigned tasks. Team leaders would presume that everyone in attendance knows what has transpired during the meeting. If changes have been made in one aspect, everyone who was at the meeting should be up on their toes in integrating the necessary changes as they come to affect their respective assignments. However, presumptions and expectations have no guarantee that they will produce the best results.

    Here’s an anecdote that could help impress the value of active participation and in having a genuine interests in each others progress reports:

    Four individuals, named Nobody, Somebody, Anybody and Everybody were working on an important project. Somebody made sure that Everybody had a task to do, which Anybody could do as well. But something went wrong somewhere when Nobody forgot to do a particular task. This made Somebody really mad because Anybody could have done the job. Everybody thought that Anybody would take care of it while Nobody had hoped that either Everybody or Anybody would remember to do it. As things turned out Everybody blamed Somebody for assigning the task to Nobody, since Anybody or Everybody could have done it in the first place.

    Continue to page 2, for more interesting stories and anecdotes about teamwork.

  • slide 4 of 7
    Anecdotes about team work and other attributes of a good team member have become instrumental in bringing about the eradication of the "survival of the fittest" syndrome. Workplace competition is fine but there should always be a balance between cooperation and a competitive attitude. Having a good story to cite as an example can help instill the importance of setting aside individual differences as a means to achieve a common goal.
  • slide 5 of 7

    Responsiveness to Change

    Change management is often implemented by making pre-cursory moves to instill the right attitude among employees or team members. The objective is to minimize if not eliminate certain tendencies to resist new processes, tools or techniques and even leadership styles. Doing so will allow the period of transition to pass smoothly with very minimal or no problems at all.

    Here’s an anecdote that could help open the minds of everyone involved in a project, in which certain changes are about to take place:

    Chattooga rafting 

    White river rafting is an extreme outdoor sport and the risks faced by the river rafters provide the thrills and challenges that fascinate those who engage in this sports activity. One rafter relates how his first experience was quite different from his second outing and each experience had a valuable lesson to teach about team building.

    During his first trip, the guide was an American who obviously had a lot of experience, judging by the number of stories he had to tell. This made every raft passenger confident to brave their fears of running against the strong water currents. They obeyed every instruction on how to master their paddles while still at the gentle reaches. They listened intently to the guide’s instructions, once their inflatable vessel meets with the fury of the white water rapids.

    The time came and their guide started bellowing out orders, as if their lives were hinged at his every command; hence it was important for everyone to listen intently to the guide’s strong and forceful voice since it seemed to drown under the roar of the waters. At last, they were able to reach their journey’s end and everybody felt like they could tackle almost anything since they were able to triumphantly overcome the powerful strength of the river.

    The narrator’s story went on to tell of his second trip in which the guide was a soft-spoken Kiwi native. The rafters were quite anxious that their guide’s voice was too soft for comfort; it was obvious that with that kind of voice, his commands will be drowned by the mighty roars of the great rapids.

    As they met with the first challenge, there was no sense of urgency when the guide started giving out instructions on what to do. Instead, there was a sense of calm with the way their vessel surpassed each challenging moment. The Kiwi native knew the river by heart as he steered the rafters away from every whirlpool quite effortlessly. There was no drama with the experience but a sense of communing with the river gave the rafters a different feeling.

    They became aware of the beauty that surrounded them and felt a sense of inner peace, as their Kiwi guide gave each rafter a chance to act as a leader. Although some rafters would prefer the excitement that was provided by the American guide, the narrator regarded the experience as a humbling one. Throughout the whole trip, he recalled that the Kiwi guide never attempted to take command but only to lead by his experience and knowledge of the river. It instilled the value of knowing how to become one with opposing currents instead of challenging their might.

  • slide 6 of 7

    Admitting Failures

    120px-Folder-red.svg Success can only be achieved if mistakes that were committed along the way have been addressed and redressed. Hence, it is also important for team members to acknowledge ownership of failures so they can delve into their own personal circumstances and what keeps them from performing effectively.

    Nuvola filesystems folder green open 

    One of the more popular project management anecdotes tells of how a newly installed CEO of Ford Motor Company asked the senior executives to acknowledge their failures. This was in 2006, when Ford could no longer ignore the fact that the company was ailing and on the verge of closing down manufacturing plants and laying-off workers.

    The progress reports were to be color coded green to denote that a respective department was doing well and operating according to plan, while the red color code would indicate that a department had been encountering difficulties and problems.

    Much to the astonishment of the new CEO, all reports submitted and placed on his desk were all green and not a single report was color coded as red. This was despite the fact that the company had suffered losses of several billion dollars during the previous year.

    Imparting stories that instill a greater consciousness for setting aside individualities helps in creating a natural community of team workers. After all, winning teams can create a positive workplace environment, which of course leads to the success of the business organization.

  • slide 7 of 7

    Reference Materials and Image Credit Section:


    Image Credits:

privacy policy